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U.S Appeals Court Rules TSA Agents Enjoy Immunity From Lawsuits

U.S Appeals Court Rules TSA Agents Enjoy Immunity From Lawsuits
Jeff Edwards

In a split decision, the federal court found that as United States government employees, Transportation Security Administration agents have “sovereign immunity” from lawsuits resulting from the performance of their official duties.

A federal appeals court in Philadelphia has affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of TSA agents. In a 2-1 decision, the panel of judges found that because TSA screeners are not technically law enforcement officers, they, as a group, enjoy sovereign immunity from lawsuits based on nearly any accusations of misconduct in the performance of their duties.

Although many TSA screeners wear badges, perform searches and enforce federal laws, the court opinion concluded that because TSA agents do not have arrest powers, their actions are in fact protected by federal laws that prevent government employees from facing lawsuits for their official activities. Federal law enforcement officials are generally not protected by sovereign immunity. According to the majority decision, because TSA officers are not law enforcement, claims of abuse by screeners can not be heard.

The ruling is the result of a case in which a passenger at Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) claimed to have been subject to abuse and false arrest at the hands of TSA screeners. Nadine Pellegrino had sued the TSA and individual screeners for nearly $100,000.

“Based on our review of the statute’s text, purpose, and legislative history, as well as precedent from this Court and other Courts of Appeals, we now reach the conclusion that we foreshadowed in Vanderklok and hold that TSA screeners are not ‘investigative or law enforcement officers’ under the law enforcement proviso,” the court said in its ruling. “Pellegrino’s claims are therefore barred by the Government’s sovereign immunity, and we will affirm the District Court’s judgment dismissing this action.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]


View Comments (14)


  1. makrom

    July 13, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    So basically they can’t be sued for illegaly arresting someone because they were not allowed to arrest people in the first place…

  2. Icecat

    July 13, 2018 at 8:39 pm

    The US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in Philly had this in their decision today: found that TSA screeners are more like federal meat inspectors than police officers.

    I’m so sorry that the people in black robes reduced your and your fellow employees status to junk…(this court decision does not give you permission to grope others, oops only Ohio State staff does that)

    Here is the article:

  3. nadabrainiac

    July 13, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    The court states the TSA agents can not arrest people, yet the plaintiff is suing for false arrest. If they can’t arrest people, they were acting outside of their duties.

    Aside from that, it’s hard to imagine a more ludicrous decision than the one protecting that particular group of people from being held accountable for their actions and behavior.

  4. RedLight2015

    July 14, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    So nothing to keep them in check? Cool, Love this country more and more.

  5. amt

    July 14, 2018 at 7:23 pm

    Am I reading that that… because they don’t have arrest powers, they are immune from prosecution for falsely arresting someone during the course of their duties?

  6. chollie

    July 15, 2018 at 2:37 pm

    ‘Enjoy’ is the key word here.

  7. MrCF

    July 19, 2018 at 4:44 am

    Here’s a fun exercise, next time you go through security count the number of blue shirts and see how many are working versus holding a clipboard and meeting with the other blue shirts doing nothing. We could likely fire 2/3 of them and not notice one damn thing different. I recently was stopped for having Tinactin foot powder spray, it was about 6 oz. So they said I could not take it on board “unless you need it for medical reasons”. So I said, if my feet get damp I might get Athlete’s Foot and that is a medical condition. So they said, “OK, you can take it”. Their rules are so idiotic but I hope that someone with a brain is watching over them, I have serious doubts.

  8. BC Shelby

    July 19, 2018 at 5:56 am

    …so they can act like jackbooted thugs, trash your luggage, confiscate and pilfer personal property, yet not be held accountable for their actions as it’s all “in the line of duty”. this nation is quickly sliding down a very slippery slope. Next you know the President will be immune to being prosecuted for criminal charges?

    Hope Amtrak isn’t gutted.

  9. Baracuda618

    July 19, 2018 at 6:15 am

    Wait…what? They have no arrest powers but arrested someone? This article doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps they meant to say that they got an officer to arrest someone. In that case, an illegal arrest would be the fault of the officer. So, the person who got arrested was, perhaps, suing the wrong party? This would make more sense.

  10. MitchR

    July 19, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    I am not an attorney, but I always understood that a ruling by a Federal Appeals court only affected that circuit. I don’t think that it would apply elsewhere. Maybe an attorney can clarify.

  11. John Aldeborgh

    July 19, 2018 at 5:14 pm

    Why not, government employees having immunity is nothing new. Justice and common sense are not the priority. It’s weasel words and any excuse to avoid personal responsibility and integrity. The irony is I’ve never seen a lawyer (judge in this case) vote against allowing someone to sue, there goes that profitable business opportunity. It would have kept hundreds of attorneys busy for years to come. Bummer.

  12. m44

    July 20, 2018 at 4:26 am

    Welcome to the banana republic with kangaroo courts.
    The Third Cir. reviewed everything except the history of the USA.
    Wasn’t the Declaration of Independence about getting away from the “sovereign immunity” abuses? Hmmmm???

  13. alexmyboy

    July 20, 2018 at 4:41 am

    Can I get an application so I can act like Tony Soprano

  14. RGS5526

    July 28, 2018 at 7:53 am

    In the UK there is an offence of “misconduct in public office”. There may be something similar in the USA If TSA employees do not have powers of arrest, then detaining someone may be exceeding the powers granted to them by Uncle Sam, and so rendering them liable in law.

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